By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
“City officials are going to be sorely disappointed” Klein warned the media in 1997. “My genuine fear is that the program will evolve into [after-school activities] programs” and achieve about as much as “the very city-backed programs that were defunded to build L.A. Bridges.” Jackie Goldberg says Klein wanted the money funneled entirely to intervention rather than prevention. However, Klein recently told the L.A. Weekly, “The City Council never understood gangs. We held a workshop to talk about gangs, and Ridley-Thomas showed up and left after about five minutes.”
Ridley-Thomas, Goldberg, Alarcón, Hernandez, Miscikowski and the rest of the 15-member City Council ignored such warnings. With 62,000 gang members accounting for 40 percent of L.A. murders at the time, the pressure to act was intense. “This is our answer, a novel, comprehensive, citywide anti-gang program,” Ridley-Thomas wrote with evangelical zeal, in a 1997 Daily News editorial. “No longer can we tolerate impersonal statistics [and] unimaginative solutions .?.?. this approach assumes a much higher level of accountability for public dollars by all parties.”
But by 2000, gang membership had risen to 64,000, and violence went unabated. That same year, an audit by City Controller Rick Tuttle urged that the entire program be scrapped. It was little more than another after-school activities program, Tuttle said, that kept poor spending records and didn’t even bother counting the number of kids supposedly averted from gangs. It sparked pointless turf wars between the Community Development Department, school district and police department — and fed an ugly fight among the 15 council members grabbing at the cash for their districts.
Tuttle stated ominously, “We’ve seen enough.”
Then-mayor Richard Riordan thought the program was a big waste of money and moved to disband it, but the City Council overrode his veto of it, pouring another $9 million into L.A. Bridges. Then-councilwoman Jackie Goldberg declared, “I don’t understand how anybody could argue that this program is anything but successful.” City Hall lobbyists and politicians even fought over the lucrative contract to evaluate the program, with County Supervisor Gloria Molina’s husband, Ron Martinez, raising a big stink for his company, People Works Inc., a leading bidder.
Tuttle recalls walking out of City Council chambers more than six years ago. “I looked at a colleague and said, ‘Well, we accomplished one thing today: We united the council [against Mayor Riordan].’?” By 2006, long after most of those council members were termed out of office, L.A. Bridges was reaping $14 million in taxpayer funds per year.
Yet even as Marroquin’s income from L.A. Bridges grew, Weasel drew sustained negative attention from police. Gang intervention worker Blinky Rodriguez, a former kickboxer whose program Communities in Schools is heralded by manyoutfits in the country, says it’s unfair. “People think you walk among lepers, and that makes you a leper,” he says.
But Detective Karen Shonka of the Sheriff’s Department watched Marroquin stumble across the line. “I got to know Hector,” Shonka says. “He was a member of the 18th Street gang, running under the guise of the No Guns thing. He had backing of political people.”
Meanwhile, a damning and detailed picture emerged from the files of the DEA and the L.A. Sheriff’s Prison Gang Unit, which investigated the Mexican Mafia’s extensive activities in Southern California. In July 2000, according to a confidential Sheriff’s Department memo obtained by the Weekly, a call came to the Sheriff’s Department from the California Department of Corrections. Prison officials were looking to quell prison racial fights, and Tom Hayden had suggested Marroquin as a mediator of sorts, since Weasel was doing the same work inside L.A. County jails.
Sergeant Richard Valdemar at the Prison Gang Unit got the call from a special agent in Sacramento checking out Marroquin, the memo states, but Valdemar warned that Marroquin was the wrong guy for the job. According to the memo, dated July 17, 2000, Valdemar alerted his chain of command, and his captain wrote to the chief of detectives, who reports directly to Sheriff Lee Baca: “Marroquin was an ex-felon, a Mexican Mafia associate and the subject of a recent federal [racketeering] investigation.”
The situation caused a dilemma for Baca, who was facing a possible race riot in county jail in the summer of 2000, and needed a mediator with Marroquin’s street credibility. A colleague told Valdemar, “Just be warned that some [Sheriff’s] department executives are desperately searching for ways to end the jail disturbances.” For three more years after the memo warned of his cozy relations with the Mexican Mafia, Marroquin kept working for the probation department as it worked hand-in-hand with the Sheriff's.
Valdemar first ran across Marroquin in 1998, when, in a major racketeering case, federal prosecutors took down more than a dozen members and associates of the Mexican Mafia on charges of murder and drug trafficking, including members of Marroquin’s 18th Street gang. Valdemar had heard from “reliable sources that unquestionably tied Marroquin to the Mexican Mafia,” the Sheriff’s memo states.
But federal prosecutors needed to limit their ultimate targets to build the strongest case, he says, and Marroquin escaped prosecution. “Hector is always on and off the radar screen for federal agents and gang detectives,” Valdemar, who is now retired, told the Weekly.